Steve Blank

Photo: (Left to right) Cognitive Systems Corp. co-founders Taj Manku, Hugh Hind and Oleksiy Kravets. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

The deep end of the talent pool

As knowledge becomes the primary currency of the global economy, talent is what separates the great tech ecosystems from the mediocre ones. Waterloo Region sent the world a reminder of the depth of its talent pool when Cognitive Systems Corp., backed by BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis’ Quantum Valley Investment Fund, emerged from 18 months of stealth to unveil a powerful new wireless-detection platform. Powered by a custom chip developed in Waterloo by ex-BlackBerry experts, this system can sense and sort the many wireless signals in a given space, analyze them in real time and report everything from unauthorized devices trying to access a network to an intruder moving through a building.

Waterloo Region’s top-quality talent and soaring startup density were the basis for a comprehensive Geektime report on the community, pegged to this year’s Compass report on the world’s top startup ecosystems. We produced a video and infographic of the top takeaways from the report.

Startups

Speaking of startups, November brought good news on a number of fronts.

Voltera, a University of Waterloo Velocity company, became the first Canadian startup to win the James Dyson Award, a prestigious international engineering design competition.

Bridgit, a graduate of the first cohort of the Communitech Rev accelerator, was the only Canadian startup selected for the upcoming women’s edition of the Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day in San Francisco. The construction-site management software company was among 11 chosen from 450 applicants from around the world.

Meanwhile, Structur3D Printing, makers of the Discov3ry Paste Extruder for 3D printers, attended a demo day in San Francisco hosted by HAX Boost, a program of Shenzhen-based HAX, a leading accelerator for hardware startups. Days later, sales of Discov3ry launched on Amazon, just in time for Black Friday.

Also launched in November was Myo Market, a shop for apps that run on Thalmic Labs’ Myo gesture-control armband. Myo Market opened with 100 apps covering gaming, productivity, presentations and other uses.

Blitzen chose the Web Summit in Dublin to exit private beta and launch salesof its lead-generation and tracking software. We caught up with CEO Jesse Guild to talk about the company’s progress to date.

The second cohort of the Communitech Rev accelerator took up residence in November, as some changes to the program were announced, including a staggered intake process and dedicated advisers.

To coincide with Remembrance Day, we featured O2 Canada, a Waterloo company that has developed a new pollution mask 100 years after Canadians introduced the first respirator to soldiers on the battlefield during the First World War.

Startups in general will have more space to operate thanks to an agreement between Google, the University of Waterloo and Communitech. As Google vacated its 80,000-square-foot space in the Tannery and moved into 180,000 square feet in the nearby Breithaupt Block, it made more room in the Tannery for UW’s Velocity startup incubator, and for Communitech.

Velocity, meanwhile, held is Velocity Fund Finals in November, awarding four companies $25,000 each.

The wisdom of founders

Of course, Velocity’s most famous benefactor is Kik founder Ted Livingston, who gave $1 million back to the program in 2011, less than two years after he left the program as a student. Livingston, whose mobile messaging platformsurpassed $1 billion in valuation earlier this year, is featured in Episode 1 of the Communitech Podcast.

We followed up with another episode featuring Jim Estill, a tech industry veteran and early Research In Motion (now BlackBerry) investor and board member, who shared his sales secrets in a session at Communitech. Estill made news in November for personally sponsoring 50 Syrian refugee familiesto settle in his hometown of Guelph.

Also dispensing wisdom was Kurtis McBride, co-founder and CEO of Miovision, which turned 10 years old in November. We accordingly posed 10 questions to McBride, who answered with characteristic candour and humility.

Toronto-Waterloo corridor

Other tech founders spoke up during November about the need to improve transportation links between Waterloo Region and Toronto. Ali Asaria of Tulip Retail argued in the Globe and Mail that a better rail service is vital to connecting talented people along the corridor, while Thalmic Labs CEO Stephen Lake called for a new high-speed rail system, rather than mere improvements to current GO train service.

The mayors of Kitchener and Toronto picked up on the transportation theme during a joint appearance at Series 401 in Toronto, a third annual gathering of startups from the two communities.

Enterprise

Smarter transportation in general will be a focus of a new General Motors partnership with Communitech to open an “innovation research zone” in the Communitech Hub.

Meanwhile, stalwart Waterloo Region tech company COM DEV International announced plans to be acquired by Honeywell International in a $455-million deal.

Dematic, the Atlanta-based warehouse automation company that opened a Waterloo outpost last year, has quickly grown its local operation and announced new scholarships for University of Waterloo students.

In other news 

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About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.